Neo nazis march commemorating allied bombing
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Neo-Nazis March as Dresden Remembers War Dead
Feb 13, 10:04 AM (ET)
By Alexandra Hudson
DRESDEN, Germany (Reuters) - Waving black flags and carrying banners, thousands of neo-Nazis marched in Dresden on Sunday, marring the official 60th anniversary commemoration of one of the fiercest Allied bombing raids of World War II.
Before the march Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder pledged to stop far-right groups exploiting the anniversary and portraying Germany as a war victim while ignoring Nazi atrocities.
Police said at least 3,000 people joined the march in the eastern German city, making it one of the biggest far-right demonstrations since the war. Before the march, police said 5,000 attended a neo-Nazi rally.
Once a fringe group, the neo-Nazis have seized on Germany's recognition finally of its own wartime suffering to grab headlines and forge political gains, especially in the east where unemployment remains high 15 years after unification.
Thousands of officers, backed by water cannon, were drafted into the city to stop the far-right supporters -- banned from wearing bomber jackets and boots -- clashing with anti-fascist activists, who chanted "Nazis out" from neighboring streets.
Official ceremonies began with a wreath-laying ceremony at a mass grave for 20,000 victims while neo-Nazi marchers elsewhere in the city carried balloons saying: "Allied bomb terror -- then as now. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden and today Baghdad. No forgiveness, no forgetting."
Dresden, untouched by bombing just months before the end of World War II, was nearly destroyed by two waves of British bombers on the night of Feb. 13, 1945. U.S. planes blasted the city the next day.
"We expect an official apology from Britain," NPD leader Udo Voigt told Reuters on the margins of the march.
The official death toll is put at around 35,000 but many survivors believe the actual number was higher as bodies were reduced to ashes in the ensuing firestorm.
British, American, French and Russian dignitaries attended events meant to send a message of peace and reconciliation, whilst remembering the crimes of the Nazis and those cities which shared Dresden's fate.
"MOST TERRIBLE CIRCUMSTANCES"
"Thousands of innocent people, including many children and refugees, died in most terrible circumstances," Schroeder said in a statement on Sunday.
"One of the most beautiful cities in Europe was destroyed. We mourn today for the victims of war and violent Nazi rule in Dresden, Germany and Europe."
Once dubbed the Florence of northern Europe for architectural jewels such as the Zwinger palace and the Semper Opera, the city was reduced to smoldering ruins.
East German socialist town planners restored some historic buildings but also tore vast concrete avenues through the city's heart. Today ugly concrete housing blocks jostle with church spires on the city skyline.
Dresdeners take huge pride in the baroque Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady), rebuilt in the 15 years since German reunification in 1990, and which was topped last year with a golden cross from Britain.
The anniversary has fueled a debate over how to mourn Germany's war dead while containing the resurgent far right.
Schroeder pledged to counter all attempts to distort history and hinted he would make a fresh attempt to ban the far-right National Democratic Party (NPD) which helped organize the march and is hoping to score well in a regional election next week.
"We will use all means to counter these attempts to re-interpret history. We will not allow cause to be confused with effect," he said.
"This is our obligation to all the victims of the war and Nazi terror, especially and also the victims of Dresden."
Members of the NPD that sits in the Dresden-based Saxony state parliament provoked outrage last month by walking out of a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp and calling the air raids a "bombing holocaust."
Britain's ambassador to Germany, Sir Peter Torry, told Sunday's Tagesspiegel newspaper likening the bombing of Dresden to the Holocaust was "highly problematic" but played down the threat posed by the NPD. The Nazis killed six million Jews in the Holocaust during World War II.
"I would take the phenomenon seriously but not overrate it. The neo-Nazis got into Saxony's parliament but on a low turnout," he was quoted as saying.